From a cup of caffeine to the exact shade of your veggies, how much and what type of exercise you should be getting, to whether broccoli is doing you more harm than good, the era of personalized nutrition, fitness and medicine is here.
“It’s the best thing that can happen, and it’s a solution that will ultimately help people live long,” said Sajeev Nair, co-founder and chairman of Vieroots Wellness Solutions.
Founded in 2019 by Sajeev and co-founder Adityanarayan, Bengaluru-based healthtech startup Vieroots Wellness Solutions has pioneered the Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based Personalized Epigenetic Lifestyle Modifications (EPLIMO) mobile app.
“Our goal is to transform the lives of one million people into healthy ones through EPLIMO by 2025,” says Sajeev.
“As people realized through COVID-19 that they need to take care of their own health, they started looking for tools and processes to do so. EPLIMO was on the market right on time as a solution to their search,” he adds.
“EPLIMO makes it convenient for users to access genetic and metabolic reports and personalized lifestyle changes suggested by our platform’s genetic and medical experts, along with online counseling,” he says.
With the option to save health records for quick reference and to find nearby doctors, EPLIMO has it all at its users’ fingertips.
As COVID-19 changed the dynamics of health and healthcare, bringing with it multiple technological interventions, the pandemic also resulted in a long-term shift in consumer behavior and attitudes, and redefined how minds and bodies are related.
The earlier approach of what Sajeev calls “reactionary medicine” – seeing a doctor only in times of illness – has been constantly changing due to a rapid shift to slow and sustainable living and a holistic lifestyle change.
The shift is toward long-term solutions and what Sajeev calls an early adoption of “preventive medicine/healthcare.”
India’s 443 million millennials spend an average of Rs 4,000 per month on health and wellness services and products, according to Indian market research firm Numb Research.
This is attested to by EPLIMO’s 5,000+ active user base, a “continuously growing” tribe.
More than 200 lifestyle coaches and over 500 wellness consultants are on board at Vieroots.
The road from DNA to metabolic assessment
“I used to take a lot of supplements and exercise a lot, but I quickly learned that not everything is for everyone. I’ve learned that some of these supplements can do more harm than good, while some of the exercises can actually kill you. And that was a great revelation,” Sajeev recalls.
“When I went to the US in 2005, I came across a concept called nutrigenomics (also known as nutritional genomics, the term is commonly used to define the relationship between nutrients, diet and gene expression), which aims primarily to decipher aspects of nutrition based on genomics” , he says.
In 2003 the Human Genome Project was completed.
Sajeev soon learned that DNA could be used to decode the body’s diverse nutritional needs.
Kerala-born serial entrepreneur Sajeev, a well-known wellness evangelist and one of India’s first biohackers, was already working on his wellness business at the time.
The author of The Making of a Superman, Sajeev experimented on himself with some of the DIY “biohacks,” or personalized lifestyle modifications he’d learned through his research.
“Around 2016-2017 I became more interested in an area called human longevity and peak performance, primarily as a peak performance coach myself. Therefore, maximizing human performance or increasing human potential has always been my passion,” he shares.
As he began cultivating the space of “long, healthy, and fulfilling life,” he soon discovered how this was inseparable from personalized health.
Personalized Health Guide for Life
Typically, a kit is provided to a customer to collect 2mL of their saliva, and the sample is recollected and sent to the genomics lab. The lab then decodes your own DNA and scores it against the metrics of 250 different health conditions.
The DNA report card provides a user with a wide range of information: from their risk of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and autoimmune diseases, to the absorption of minerals and vitamins in their cells and the generativity of their musculoskeletal structure.
However, Vieroots soon realized that it wasn’t enough.
Imagine you are visiting a good doctor for a specific condition or disease. They sometimes ask seemingly incoherent questions about sleep cycles, etc. It might seem incoherent to a layperson, but Sajeev explains that these are deeper questions that relate directly to one’s body and health. For example, whether or not you sleep well is also a determinant of digestive function.
Vieroots has curated a questionnaire of 70 metabolism-related questions that comes preloaded on its EPLIMO mobile app. When a user visits the website, they are directed to the app, and when they download the app, the user is directed to answer these questions.
The questionnaire is designed to generate data and information on 250 health conditions and will be correlated with DNA data obtained from genomic assessment.
Sajeev gives an example: Suppose you look at a genome report, a person might be genetically at a higher risk of lactose intolerance. In order to address the problem of lactose intolerance, the proposed recommendation must be of the “no use dairy” character. However, if you read the report further, you may find that you are at higher risk for lower calcium levels, and the recommendation given is “Eat more calcium-rich foods like milk”.
Correlation is absent; The report is based on state-to-state parameters only. EPLIMO claims to provide a “highly accurate” recommendation by correlating the various conditions using the power of ML and AI.
Sajeev describes the personalized health bulletin as an “instruction manual for the rest of your life” because genomic data never changes.
The Wellness Consumer Tribe
“The good thing is that our target group is very defined; They are health conscious people. We only target people who are already health conscious but make mistakes. For example, people who need to make informed choices, whether it’s exercise or diet,” Sajeev explains.
So far the number of app downloads stands at 5,500, with Tier I accounting for 70-80% and the Northeast up to 20%. The average age profile of the user base is between 25 and 55 years old.
The entire EPLIMO process, including advice and coaching, costs Rs. 30,000 plus tax.
Vieroots has trained wellness or “lifestyle coaches” with a life sciences background. Some of them are dieticians and professionals who have taken courses in biotechnology. All work on a commission basis to generate and support revenue.
The “lifestyle coaches” complete a two-month course for which Vieroots has joined the Indian Association for Functional Medicine.
The entire process takes about four to six weeks, from delivery of the genome kit to the consultation. The final virtual consultation takes place in addition to the epigenetic personalized lifestyle recommendation manual in PDF format that the user receives on the app.
“The goal is to empower people to take responsibility for their own health,” says Sajeev.
Speaking about the challenges, Sajeev explains: “The first name that comes to mind for a user when we talk about healthcare is the doctor. And yet you usually go to the doctor when you are sick. Also, most doctors don’t have the time or bandwidth to deal with preventive healthcare because they are too busy working on diseases.”
“In the case of autoimmune diseases, immunosuppressants are the only drug available. Some results from genomic reports have shown that “nightshade vegetables” such as tomatoes and potatoes have an adverse effect on some people. And interestingly, it has been observed that when such people stopped consuming them, their autoimmune disease, which they have been suffering from for years, also subsided,” he adds.
Sajeev says there are no direct competitors or services like EPLIMO. However, he cites some of the top players in the “personal genomics market” in India: MayMyGenome, Genebox and Medgenome.
The bootstrap startup follows the direct-to-customer revenue model.
“We closed a full financial year this year on March 22nd and achieved Rs. 14.8 crore with marginal profitability. We have two sources of income: one is a service and the second is our supplements,” says Sajeev.